Trite Observations on the Dangers of Scientism

I used to be a bit of an economic imperialist, believing many or even most questions could be answered adequately enough with an economist’s toolkit. I still am, to a certain respect, still believing that good sociology(and a large portion of good work done by other social sciences) is just economics in disguise. There’s usually a rigorousness to the thinking that I appreciate. If you want some mushy-headed social science work, check out some of the older work done on sex work, especially those produced by radical feminists*.

There’s a danger though on how the limits of human knowledge, understanding, and impartiality can color the sort of work that most would deem well within the realm of proper scientific inquiry. This can be considered feature, not a bug, in fact. Science is about testing and retesting, reaffirming or disconfirming, sometimes, long-held positions. This also means that there will be dead ends. Dead ends in science are inevitable, and that’s okay.

There’s, however, an even greater danger when tools of science start sniffing along the border of that Third Category, unbounded by the chains of normal human conscience and ethics. All it takes is faulty assumptions and one can allow, advocate, and demand all manner of disgustingly subhuman behavior.


Trite Observations Spurred on by the Following:

How to Be Reasonable

Does Ethical Theory Still Exist?

Does the Is-Ought Divide Make Atrocities More Palatable?



*I do not use this term lightly or mistakenly.

Mea Culpa: Free Speech Legalism Edition

Apologies to Ken White for this, he was correct.

More from him:

Patrick: We have an ongoing dispute about whether or not vivid rhetoric implies (totalitarianism! nazis! book-burning!) an assertion of rights. My position is that it does, or at least deliberately blurs the nature of the assertion, and attempts to capture the moral weight of rights and import it into criticism of private speech and action.

In that spirit, I’d rather compare Twitter to Tyrell Corporation or Weyland-Yutani than to Orwell’s imagined society.

It’s not just the blurring the nature of an assertion on the part of the asserter, but the blurring of the nature of the assertion by those on the receiving end of the assertions. I avoided “totalitarianism! nazis! book-burning!”-style arguments, and tried to focus on what sort of self-imposed, self-assumed ethical constraints a private actor is or should be bound when marketing one’s self as a free speech proponent(or, really, proponents of any sort of ideals, virtues, value system), but, having had multiple discussions with unequivocal supporters of Twitter’s actions, failing each and every time come to a mutual understanding of even basic points of contention, I’ve realized it’s all for naught.

As Ken notes in the actual post,

The right to free speech is America’s most important right because it’s how we identify and defend all rights. But you can’t defend a right you don’t understand or can’t define. Distorting or blurring the definition of a right undermines it. In short: free speech legalism matters.

While I don’t “think that Twitter has a civic or moral obligation to uphold “values of free speech””, I do think they have an ethical obligation to not shit that particular bed. However, the power of free speech rhetoric, even with the most careful of wordings, and covered in numerous qualifiers about the non-rights-asserting nature of a particular argument, is in a fragile enough state, that it might be best to abstain completely from its use in private actor concerns. To do otherwise might actually jeopardize real free speech-threatening situations if enough people make distorting or blurring arguments, or enough people distort or blur arguments being made by others that everyone reflexively stops believing the Boy Who Cried Book-Burning, Nazi Totalitarianism.

Poorly-Conceived, Poorly-Written, and Poorly-Edited Thoughts on Twitter Pulled From An Email Thread Written During My Lunch Break


Where do you come down on this whole Twitter vis-à-vis free speech thing?


Pen Pal:

I haven’t really dived into it to be honest. I’m not clear on what precisely they are and aren’t doing.

Mostly I think stuff like this shows that the open protocol people were right from the beginning; it always would’ve been better for us to have had something like email for what we do on Twitter rather than one company that has to make calls about policies like this.

In the particulars, I think both sides are broadly right. It’s scary when a company whose platform is an important nexus of influence starts cracking down for politically motivated reasons, but the stream of vile shit really does make it unusable for a lot of people already. So ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What about you? Have you paid any closer attention to this? Do you have thoughts?



Tangentially, even after I tried to slough off overtly political follows, it still kept creeping up in my TL(which isn’t helped by whatever the fuck Twitter decided to do to my TL the last few days, before I finally(?) jumped ship). Seriously, I just opened up the mobile app, and the top 13 tweets in my TL are by people I don’t follow. Fuck Twitter.

Like any good libertarian, I say a pox on both houses. I’m even having to cast a pox on some libertarians, too.

You know me, I’m a pretty big fan of Ken White, but I can’t help but disagree strongly with a portion of his post here

I think it is logically coherent to believe or think that Twitter or any other private actor should uphold XYZ values, in this case “free speech values”. This is something that becomes more obvious to me if you believe Twitter’s rhetoric, that they supposedly embrace free speech. I think that might be the crux of why I don’t completely dismiss the concerns of RightWing twitter. If you(Twitter) supposedly care about free speech, like you say you do, you gotta attempt to live up to it. This would be analagous to how FIRE (and Ken White) would critique censorious behavior by private universities as failing to uphold XYZ values(in that case, open inquiry, skepticism, etc etc etc)

Now, his distinction between free speech legalism and the, granted, more amorphous “upholding XYZ values” is important, and way too many socialcon tweeps do conflate 1st Amendment with (lower-case) free speech, and the point is well taken that the mushier language of values makes the discourse more difficult to parse, maybe even impossible, but my response is, “so what?”

Twitter absolutely has every right to disassociate themselves from whomever and they have every right to not provide a platform for whomever, but seemingly arbitrary suspensions/expulsions/etc makes a lie of Twitters supposed commitment to free speech.

I don’t want to go toooooo far though, because then you have scumbag partisans making the illogical leap from “Twitter is sorta, kinda hypocritical when they say they’re big proponents of free speech but suspend/delete accounts seemingly because of political allegiances, since equally vile rhetoric by people who are of a different political bent are not treated the same way” to “I demand Twitter give me a platform because to do otherwise is to trample my free speech rights”






Right Wing Twitter are as big of whiny crybabies as they say SJW Twitter is.